Fighting fascism and racism in Greece

Katerina Thoidou is a Greek activist and socialist. She is on the Steering Committee of KEERFA (United Against Racism and the Fascist Threat), a campaign group fighting Greece’s neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, a member of Solidarity’s sister organisation in Greece, the Socialist Workers’ Party (SEK) and a journalist on their weekly newspaper, Workers’ Solidarity. Here we reprint her speech on the fight against fascism and racism which she delivered at Solidarity’s Keep Left conference.

“I WILL start with the latest news. Golden Dawn announced that it would organise a fascist festival of hate in Kalamata at the beginning of August. All the unions of Kalamata made open statements that Golden Dawn is unwelcome in their town. After a huge demonstration in Kalamata on July 20, with over 2000 people demonstrating against Golden Dawn, the fascist festival was banned.

Golden Dawn, even though they have 18 MPs in the Greek parliament, are not rooted in society. To be realistic they are an isolated group of killers who confront massive resistance everywhere they try to reach. The union of the municipal workers said recently that “they are unwelcome in our assemblies and demonstrations”. Doctors and nurses in many hospitals have confronted them for giving “blood only for Greeks”. In March, the union of teachers organised a day against racism and fascism in the schools. The union of bus drivers recently prevented Golden Dawn MPs from visiting their work places.

One year ago, just after the elections, there were theories that the people in Greece had become fascist and since Golden Dawn is an official political party of the parliament there wasn’t much anyone could do. Even in the left, there was panic and no clear explanation.

For KEERFA and SEK it was very important to have a clear explanation of the rise of fascism and take unifying initiatives. We explained that the rise of the neo-Nazis in Greece is due to the fact that all the previous governments in Greece, PASOK and New Democracy, played the card of racism and Islamophobia, in order to disorientate popular anger and shift it away from those really responsible for the economic crisis. They use the poison of racism to give the people a false explanation of reality and create a hatred between native and immigrants.

Who is to blame for the unemployment? The bosses who are sacking, or the immigrants? Who is to blame for the worsening of the health service? The cuts or the immigrants who use the public hospitals? Who is to blame for the crime in society? The poverty or the immigrants?

There is a conception that economic crisis automatically leads to the rise of Nazis. It’s not true. The Greek government … paved the way for Golden Dawn.

KEERFA was established in 2009. The government of PASOK in 2010 proposed the first Memorandum [austerity measures] and at the same time decided to build a big fence on the border with Turkey to stop the passage of immigrants from Asia to Europe. As a result many refugees tried to pass the border through the sea and we have had an increase of drownings.

In coalition with the EU, they increased the patrols of FRONTEX (an army to inspect the sea boarder of EU). They built concentration camps for immigrants who do not have papers. Last summer the notorious Greek minister of police arrested thousands of immigrants just because they were walking in the centre of Athens or just going to work and called them “rubbish”.

Some of them were deported and others are still living in the concentration camps or in the police stations. Recently two of them committed suicide because they couldn’t stand it any more and one Afghan refugee was found dead because he was asking for a doctor but the guards didn’t care. Some of them are tortured by the guards. We have complaints of electric shocks or sexual harassment inside the camps.

At the same time racism became the official political rhetoric. We used to hear from the minister of health of PASOK that immigrants are “health bombs” because they bring diseases to the Greek people. Antonio Samaras [Greek Prime Minister] said before last year’s election that he will throw away the immigrant boys and girls from the kindergartens and that the police should retake the cities from the immigrants.

The government imposed these inhuman measures at the same time that the workers’ resistance to the attacks of the government was growing. At the same time as the strikes, the occupations, and fights the government played the card of racism. This policy made it easy for the Nazis to start saying that they would clean the towns of the immigrants with more effective measures, actually threatening that they would use strong violence against immigrants, the anti-racists and generally the left.
New Democracy and PASOK tried to attack the Left parties by saying that “they’re responsible for the invasion of the immigrants”. This was a sly way to justify the Nazis’ crimes.

Understanding Golden Dawn

In the last elections the two biggest parties lost 50 per cent of their votes. The biggest part went to the Left and a small part of 7 per cent went to the Nazis. Not all Golden Dawn voters are Nazis.

We can separate the voters of Golden Dawn by using three concentric circles. The bigger one includes those who voted for Golden Dawn as an anti-systemic party. They present themselves as those who will clean the political system and punish the thieving politicians. The second circle includes those who used to vote for the right-wing parties who were always far right and more racist. And in the center of the smallest concentric circle is the genuine Golden Dawn who participate in very violent attacks against immigrants and leftists. When they call for an open gathering they aren’t more than 500 people.

But they are dangerous. Within one year there must have been about 800 attacks against immigrants, most of which became known, but the police don’t care. In reality there is an open coalition between the police and Golden Dawn. Fifty per cent of the police voted for them.

The main task for the left is to prevent Golden Dawn from converting their voters to members and using them as a dangerous force to get the control of the streets. And this is exactly what KEERFA tries to do.

The first thing we have to do is to expose them. They try to pretend they are “Greek nationalists” but they believe in Hitler and in Holocaust. We have to stop them from gaining any space in the neighbourhoods, in the workplaces, in society. We try to hold anti-fascist rallies whenever they try to make racist gatherings or open an office.

We also have to counter the racist ideas, the ground in which the Nazis flourish. We need to give the basic anti-racist arguments to explain why immigrants are not to blame for the collapse of social system, the hospitals, the schools, the unemployment.

It’s important to win immigrants to the movement in order [for them] to have confidence to fight united with the native workers. KEERFA has made great steps to this point. One year ago on August 25 just after the entrance of Golden Dawn into the parliament there was a big demonstration against the massive pogroms against the immigrants. The government called this operation ‘Xenios Dias’ [after] the ancient God of hospitality. About 20,000 immigrants mostly from Pakistan and KEERFA flooded the center of Athens and gave a great answer to the most barbaric attacks by the state.

We try to unite everybody who wants to fight. Trade unions, artists, all the political parties of the left, all the people who are interested in fighting racism, even sports associations. We are clear that this fight its not a matter that concerns a minority of anti-fascists against a minority of fascists. It is the huge majority of society.

[On January 19 this year] we organised a big demonstration and a concert in the centre of Athens with 20,000 people and many mobilisations of solidarity in many cities around the world. This day gave great confidence to the anti-fascist movement and to the immigrants. Two days before the demonstration two members of Golden Dawn had assassinated an immigrant with a knife as he was going to work. The demonstration began with the funeral of the immigrant and finished with thousands of people in Syntagma Square [in Athens] cheering after listening to your greeting from Sydney and all over the world.

Last April we had the heroic uprising of the strawberry pickers in a small village called Manolada. They went to the boss to ask for their money since he hadn’t paid them for six months. The boss shot them. Thirty-three of them were injured and five were in a dangerous condition. The Union of Immigrant Workers, a union created with the help of KEERFA and with the chairman of Pakistan community as the leader, [and] KEERFA and ANTARSYA [Coalition of the Anti-Capitalist Left], organised a big demonstration in this village of 3,000 people, mostly immigrants, who asked for their money, papers, housing and hot water. At the end of this demonstration all the strawberry workers decided to form a union and fight for their rights.

Way forward

More than 100,000 people have joined local demonstrations against Golden Dawn across Greece. The members and the leadership of the Left parties are now more willing to take initiatives against Golden Dawn. In Chania, Communist Party members threw the local leader of Golden Dawn into the sea and after that even the children sang joking songs for him.

Now we are working on a new campaign, we call it “the anti-racist bill of the movement”. In Greece there was a big debate about a new bill against racist violence. This bill was never voted on in the parliament because Samaras was pressured to support the Nazis by his MPs.

Now we are fighting for the real bill against racism and fascism and we are asking the unions, the left parties and the town councils to adopt it. We ask for: legalisation of all immigrants, asylum for refuges, nationality for all the children, the closing down of the concentration camps and the Golden Dawn office in the neighborhoods.

In October, KEERFA is organising an international anti-fascist conference to talk and organise international initiatives. We have the elections of the European parliament in May 2014 and we want to record a defeat of the fascists.

We don’t want to let the Nazis gain power because of the disappointment of people in the two big parties … we want to encourage the Left to do the same without fearing that speaking against racism and fascism will make the ex-voters of the two big parties turn away from the Left.

We fight because we have learnt from history that economic crises can lead to revolution and not to the brutality of fascism. Even with the rise of Hitler in the decade of 1930s, there was a big political fight and the fascists won in Germany, Italy and Spain, after huge struggles and after the defeat of revolutions.

We are here to win a world without poverty, unemployment, racism and fascism and for a world with open borders for everybody. That’s why it is important to talk about the alternative to capitalist crises and strengthen the anti-fascist movement together with the anti-capitalist left.”

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